Want some tips on stakeholder engagement? Don’t ask Leo Apotheker!

Leo Apotheker-fired after only 11 months on the job

As unbelievable as it sounds, HP’s CEO, who got fired yesterday, is said to have had no idea the Board of Directors was even thinking about replacing him according to Bloomberg.  Apotheker, who came from SAP, had just served slightly less than a year before getting the boot. My, how time flies.

They’ve replaced Apotheker with Meg Whitman who made a gazillion dollars at eBay before an unsuccessful run at a Senate seat in California. When hearing the news of her new job, many pundits, grand puhbahs, and the Silicon Valley “Brahmin” remarked she was the worst replacement anyone could think of.  But, that’s another story; let’s get back to Apotheker’s abysmal stakeholder engagement practices.

According to the NY Times, the Board felt that Mr. Apotheker “bungled” communicating plans for spinning off the PC business, acquiring a software company for $11.7 billion, and closing a line of mobile devices. In baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out; same at HP if you’re the CEO. By many accounts, the guy sat his desk and made these major business decisions with very little input, and without consulting the very people and business partners who would be affected the most (in project management we call them internal and external stakeholders).

Did he ever bother to pick up a phone and call any of them? Did he not invite them over for dinner to discuss the issues? Or, maybe, in the land of lattes and chai, it appears he didn’t even ask someone to go to Philz Coffee House to “chew the fact” on any of this?

But the most remarkable fact of this fairy tale is that Apotheker is said not to have had a clue that the Board was going to fire him. Actually, they planned on getting rid of him 3 months ago, only 8 months into his term.  I don’t think he was sitting alone in his office. I think he was hiding in a cave! Maybe he was harder to find than Saddam Hussein!

Sadam Hussein’s hiding place..they found him anyway!

CEOs serve at the pleasure of a Board of Directors. HP’s Board, by many accounts, is dysfunctional and is the poster child for poor governance (remember how they botched the firing of Mark Hurd?). But even if Apotheker worked for a bunch of boobs that doesn’t excuse the fact, if true, that he was skipping and whistling on his way to work and had no idea his key stakeholders weren’t pleased with his performance.

How about you? Are you key stakeholders plotting against you? Do you know if you’re going to get fired? How many strikes do you have against you? Are you keeping your finger on the pulse of your stakeholders?

By the way, Apotheker will definitely have the last laugh. In America you make a lot of money getting sacked. Looks like the guy will walk away from HP with a cool $38 million for only 11 months at HP. Where can I get a job like that?

4 thoughts on “Want some tips on stakeholder engagement? Don’t ask Leo Apotheker!

  1. Thanks for comments Prasad and nice to hear from you. Here’s a link to Bill Taylor’s (founder of FAST COMPANY magazine) article with his thoughts on this debacle. http://blogs.hbr.org/taylor/2011/09/how_hewlett-packard_lost_the_h.html

    As you know, we at ESI, and I personally, worked with HP (“original” and then the combined from Digital-Compaq-HP) for more than 15 years. We worked with great folks like Ron Kempf, Rene Speitel (EPMO Head), and many others. I loved the culture of that organization. However, through mergers and a succession of new CEO’s the place had changed tremendously, and many of their really good folks left. It’s still a great organization with a lot of talented people. I just hope they hang in there and make it all work. To be sure the “HP Way” seems to have lost it’s “way.”

  2. Pingback: PM Wired

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